D.C. has long been said to be first for women in tech, but with Donald Trump and his administration moving into town, the District’s female tech leaders are worried that could change.
“As an advocate for diversity and inclusion, the election of Donald Trump sent a chilling message to me (and others) — that inclusion and intersectionality is not something to be celebrated but slowed down or stopped at all costs,” said Sibyl Edwards, Chief Creative Officer at Wetogethr and president of DC Web Women.
Trump’s list of misguided comments about women during the campaign seem endless: he’s made numerous inappropriate comments about how he would date his own daughter; been recorded saying he can get a woman to do whatever he wants because he’s a celebrity; has claimed that under current abortion laws, “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, on the final day,” as he said at the last presidential debate.
His lack of understanding for the female experience is why D.C.’s women in technology need their allies more than ever, Edwards said.
“The time is now for us to come together and continue to build inclusive tech communities and use our tech talents to advocate for the underrepresented and the marginalized,” she said.
“In the days following the election, rather than posting or tweeting, I will be doing some serious soul searching to identify how I can do more in the coming years,” she wrote. “I encourage all of us to do the same.”
In that same post, she wrote about how she doesn’t see the leadership values she wants to instill in her son in our political leaders right now. That’s why she plans to engage more than ever.
“We live in a democracy. That means we can choose our values. We can choose our role models and leaders,” she said. “We can choose our future. But we must do more than talk. We must choose to act.”
That message is ringing true for many of D.C.’s women in tech. Elizabeth Lindsey, the executive director of D.C.’s Byte Back, which works to provide computer training to underserved D.C. residents, said in an email that going to work on Wednesday ended up helping her cope with the news.
“When I arrived, there were two classes of people working hard to learn technology — people who struggle with homelessness, unemployment, lack of transportation, and other significant challenges,” she said. “I realized that I can make a difference by being there and supporting them — they are my inspiration, and regardless of who’s in the White House they are working every day to change their lives.”
For Jess Bell, a co-organizer for DC Tech Meetup and a leader of many female meetup groups like DC Fem Tech, Trump’s election signifies to her that America is okay with a leader who denigrates half of his constituents.
“I get that people are angry and feel left behind, but that is not the same to be as the real life and death implications that people will now face,” she said. “We have said ‘It’s okay to sexually assault women, it’s okay to elect a president who is endorsed by the KKK, it is okay to have someone who wants to keep people out of this country on religious basis’—this is false equivalency at its most dangerous.”
Bell also said now is the time to engage, rather than disengage — especially when it comes to diversity initiatives in D.C.’s tech community.
“It is time to get to work,” she said. “As a community we need to harness that power to fighting white supremacy, sexism and sexual violence, Islamophobia and religious persecution, and support of our LGBTQ+ community.
“We have a unique opportunity as a place with people who understand policy and the legislative process, with activists and progressive workers, and with the tech talent to build the solutions.”
Joy Whitt, a co-organizer for the Tech Lady Hackathon, said the all-inclusive female hackathon is working on ways to create more safe spaces for women and nonbinary people in the D.C. tech community.
“I think we anticipated having more time to rest before starting the next initiative, but we can’t afford to wait another 6-12 months,” Whitt said. “Our communities need to know that there will always be a place for them to learn and grow in DC’s tech scene.”
And the Lesbians Who Tech group had a similar response in a Medium post they shared on Wednesday.
“I built Lesbians Who Tech to create a space for LGBTQ women to feel safe and to have a community,” wrote D.C.’s Leanne Pittsford, who is the founder and CEO of the national group. “We built this space together. So lean on it, let it support you.”
And Pittsford said that whenever people are ready, she hopes the group will come together and fight to rebuild what they lost in the election.
“Because if there’s one thing I know about women, queer women, queer women of color, our allies, and technologists, it’s that we love solving problems,” she wrote.
“And today is the day we’ve all been given one of our biggest problems yet.”
Image used via CC BY 2.0 — credit Michael Vadon